From data visualization to habitat inventories, PSU Living Lab program advances campus sustainability work

Written by the Campus Sustainability Office.

Are any of the wells at PSU suitable for drinking water in the case of an emergency? What plant and animal species live on our campus and how can we improve their habitat? How has transit use changed since the opening of the Max yellow line? These questions are a small sample of the challenges, opportunities, and initiatives of sustainability work at PSU. To support departments that grapple with topics like these, the PSU Living Lab program matches staff with students and faculty who bring fresh perspectives to develop unique and innovative solutions to campus sustainability challenges.

During the 2017-2018 academic year, the Living Lab program helped facilitate 15 projects that engaged over 130 students and 11 faculty. These projects spanned disciplines from GIS to urban design and planning, to civil engineering. Living Lab projects typically begin with an idea from PSU staff but can also be generated by faculty or students. Members of the PSU Living Lab team managed collaboratively between the Campus Sustainability Office, Institute for Sustainable Solutions, and Facilities & Property Management (FPM), then work with participants to agree on a scope, timeline, and deliverables. Throughout each project, a Living Lab team member serves as a liaison to support participants by reviewing drafts, scheduling meetings, securing access to data, and more.

Some projects wrap up neatly in one term while others warrant further exploration. One such project is focused on assessing the infrastructure and potability of wells on campus for their suitability as a potential water source in the case of an earthquake. This past spring, a team of Civil & Environmental Engineering students dove into this topic for their capstone project. After studying campus wells and conducting water quality testing, the students recommended certain wells for Portland State FPM and Emergency Management staff to study in more detail.

This project was both theoretical and technical and served as a great launching point for future Living Lab projects, currently being designed and scoped by Living Lab and staff stakeholders. For example, staff would like to further explore the potential physical impact of an earthquake on campus wells and the underlying aquifer. Other potential projects would focus on the design of a renewable energy-powered mobile well pump or structural assessments of campus buildings after a major earthquake.

The Living Lab program is actively recruiting faculty and students to participate in open projects and staff to propose new ones. Opportunities for the upcoming school year include designing a survey to understand community preferences for commercial real estate goods and services on campus, surveying bike commuters to map routes were taken to campus, and other topics. If you are an individual or department interested in learning more, the Living Lab team can meet one-on-one or offer a 15-minute overview presentation to your team.

Contact Emily at to learn more!

Environmental engineering student, Michelle Dawson, collecting a water sample from an ASRC well for testing.